Opportunity Key For Penn State's Apke

Whether subbing for an injured teammate or changing positions for the good of the team, Nittany Lion sophomore Troy Apke is prepared to help whenever called upon.

The next-man-up thing is far from a cliché, as it pertains to this edition of Penn State’s football team. It has been a sobering, week-in, week-out reality.

Middle linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White sees his season ended by a knee injury in the opener against Temple, and before long Jason Cabinda slides over from the weak side, with Troy Reeder filling Cabinda’s old spot.

Offensive tackle Andrew Nelson is sidelined by a knee injury of his own midway through the Week Two game against Buffalo, and Paris Palmer returns from the bench.

Safety Jordan Lucas sits out against San Diego State, and Malik Golden makes his first career start.

And so on, and so forth.

“Coach (Bob Shoop) always talks about the next man up,” sophomore safety Troy Apke said earlier this week, referring to the Nittany Lions’ offensive coordinator.

It was the situation in which Apke found himself early in last week’s 37-21 victory over San Diego State: One minute he was standing on the sideline, the next minute he was in the game, after starting free safety Marcus Allen was kayoed by an undisclosed injury during the Aztecs’ first series.

Apke was out there the rest of the way, and made three tackles.

Shoop, he said, “talks about practicing every week like you’re a starter, so I was ready when I went in.”

No telling what it might mean going forward for the Lions (3-1), who host Army (1-3) Saturday at noon, in their final non-conference game.

“I think Malik and Troy did some really good things (against SDSU),” coach James Franklin said. “There were some times that we needed to be more consistent with our eyes and our eye discipline, and also their tackling.”

It appears Apke and Golden will both return to reserve roles Saturday. Franklin said the coaches “anticipate having Jordan and Marcus back this week.”

Apke, who Cabinda called “super athletic,” will no doubt play, though. The Mount Lebanon (Pa.) High graduate is a former WPIAL 100-meter dash champion, and a guy who his high school coach, Mike Melnyk, called “the best athlete I have coached” and a guy who owns “by far the best skill set of any kid I have coached,” according to a story that appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last October.

Apke is also adaptable, having moved from wide receiver to safety after being recruited by the Lions. That says a lot, Cabinda believes.

“I think the most important thing about changing positions — especially when it comes to completely (changing) sides of the ball, like he did, from offense to defense — is your attitude,” he said. “I think he did an incredible job of having a great attitude, coming into it. He was just ready to learn. He’s very unselfish, and all he wants to do is help the team. It’s guys like that you want on your team all the time.”

Apke is the son of two Pitt graduates. His dad, Steve, played linebacker for the Panthers, while his mom, Susan, ran track at the school.

And yet, he wound up in Happy Valley.

“My parents always said it was my choice,” he said. “They always joked around about it, but they were fine with me going to Penn State.”

As Steve told the Tribune-Review, “I bleed blue and gold. I'm a Pitt guy. But it was up to Troy.”

Troy was strictly a wide receiver his first two years of high school, then played some safety as a junior. His final season he went both ways, and as a result had some idea what the job entailed when the PSU coaches asked him to move to defense heading into the 2014 preseason.

Franklin said there was a shortage of safeties at that point (not to mention a glut of young wide receivers). And Apke seemed like an ideal candidate to make the switch.

“He's a guy that came in here, (and) everybody was impressed,” the coach said. “He tested well with his numbers. He's got a great frame. He's very mature, very intelligent.”

“It took me a little bit, to get used to it,” Apke said. “I think right now, I’m pretty good with it. … I guess the biggest thing was just the physicality. Every day in practice you’re tackling, you’re hitting, so you just have to get used to that physicality. But I was used to it in high school.”

He appeared in the final six games as a freshman, mostly on special teams, and has again been used in that role this season, while seeing more time on defense.

Against Buffalo he narrowly missed blocking a first-quarter punt, after blowing through the middle of the line. Yet somehow Apke missed the ball as it came off the foot of the Bulls’ Tyler Grassman.

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“I got there pretty quick,” he said. “I guess I didn’t know what to do.”

But in many other ways he appears to be taking advantage of the opportunity presented to him. In many other ways this next man up appears to be the right man for the job.


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